Every time I pass through the checkpoints at airports in the US, I can’t help but think how apt the term “security theater” is.
It’s clear that the practical security benefit of removing shoes, placing liquids in 100ml vials in small bags, and unpacking cables and laptops, is low to say the least.
And it’s equally clear that there would be thousands of ways for someone with ill intent to circumvent the intent of all that security – from printing your own “departure management card” sheet, to buying the Snack Packs with tuna and their razor sharp tin lid edges on board any United Airlines flight.
I think most people standing in brain-dead queues, turning up two hours early for glorified bus rides, and emptying pockets and taking off their belts in resigned obsequiousness all know deep down that the measures in place are not there to genuinely protect, but merely the trappings and suits of protection.
When I first felt this, I felt guilty. After all, we all want to travel safely. But after reading Jeff Goldgerg’s “The Things He Carried” in the Atlantic Monthly, and Peggy Noonan’s “Where is America?” I realized this wasn’t loony fringe dangerous thinking.
In fact, I think it’s dangerous to not question it.
We pass through these lines delusionally. And delusion is always worse than confronting brutal realities. By placing a charade and theater around security, we fool only ourselves. We lower awareness of the real dangers, wrapped in our comfortable cotton wool layers of pretend protection.
I believe that the security theater makes the risk of disaster higher, not lower. It is there as a morphine dose to calm the public pain over acts of terror, rather than to fix the problem or prevent real acts.
And we pay dearly for the pain killer. The friction on travel is a real and tangible cost. Hours of human productive effort wasted in time in lines, trips that could be done and back in a day that need overnight stays.
Combine the overhead needed to make even the most simple single-legged domestic air trip in America with the insanity of the hub and spoke system, and you end up with a system where it takes a day to get anywhere, and a day to get back.
Take that and add a lack of power outlets, reasonable wifi access, and working spaces at airports, and you end up with a national productivity sink.
It’s friction on business. Friction on life. And it’s bad for everyone.